Nigerian boys rescued, but questions about captors remain

More than 300 Nigerian schoolboys kidnapped last week were freed, though details remain murky around the identity of their captors. The nation is still grappling with Boko Haram’s 2014 kidnapping of 270 schoolgirls, only half of whom have been freed or found.

Sunday Alamba/AP
A group of schoolboys are escorted by Nigerian officials, Dec. 18, 2020, in Katsina, Nigeria, following their release after they were kidnapped earlier this week. Gov. Aminu Bello Masari said "most of the boys, if not all of them" had been rescued.

More than 300 Nigerian schoolboys, freed after being kidnapped last week in an attack on their school, have arrived in the capital of Katsina state to celebrations of their release.

The boys were abducted on the night of Dec. 11 from the all-boys Government Science Secondary School in Kankara village in Katsina state in northwestern Nigeria.

The students arrived Friday in Katsina, the capital of the state, and met with Katsina Gov. Aminu Bello Masari.

Bleary-eyed and appearing stunned by their ordeal, the boys piled into chairs in a conference room, most still in their school uniforms, some wrapped in gray blankets. One, who did not give his name, said the captors had told him to describe them as members of the Islamist militant group Boko Haram, although he suspected they were armed bandits, Reuters reported.

Security services rescued them on Thursday, authorities said. However, many details surrounding the incident remain unclear, a report from Reuters noted, including who was responsible, whether a ransom was paid, how the boys’ release was secured and whether all of them are now safe, although Governor Masari told The Associated Press that no ransom was paid.

“I think we can say ... we have recovered most of the boys, if not all of them,” he said.

The abduction gripped a country already incensed by widespread insecurity, and evoked memories of Boko Haram’s 2014 kidnapping of more than 270 schoolgirls in the northeastern town of Chibok.

Six years on, only about half the girls have been found or freed. Some were married off to fighters, while others are assumed to be dead.

Any Boko Haram involvement in this kidnapping would mark a geographical expansion in its activities from its base in the northeast. The region is also plagued by armed gangs that rob and kidnap for ransom, Reuters reported. 

The government had said it was negotiating with the school attackers, originally described as bandits. Experts say the attack was likely carried out by local gangs, who have staged increasingly deadly assaults in northwest Nigeria this year, who were collaborating with Boko Haram. Armed bandits, also known for kidnappings for ransom, have killed more than 1,100 people since the beginning of the year in the region, according to Amnesty International.

Hours before the rescue of the boys was announced on Thursday, a video started circulating online purportedly showing Boko Haram militants with some of the boys, Reuters reported, although the news agency was unable to verify the authenticity of the footage or who released it.

“They said I should say they are Boko Haram and gangs of Abu Shekau,” one of the released boys told Nigeria’s Arise TV, referring to a name used by a Boko Haram leader. “Sincerely speaking, they are not Boko Haram. ... They are just small and tiny, tiny boys with big guns.”

In 2018, four years after the Chibok abduction, Boko Haram Islamic extremists brought back nearly all of the 110 girls they had kidnapped from a boarding school in Dapchi and warned: “Don’t ever put your daughters in school again.”

While President Muhammadu Buhari cited the release of the Dapchi schoolgirls as a success during a statement to the public late Thursday, he reiterated that there was still a lot of work to do.

Amid an outcry in the West African nation over insecurity in the north, Mr. Buhari noted his administration’s successful efforts to secure the release of previously abducted students. He added that the government “is acutely aware of its responsibility to protect the life and property of the Nigerians.”

“We have a lot of work to do, especially now that we have reopened the borders,” Mr. Buhari said, acknowledging that Nigeria’s northwest region “presents a problem” the administration “is determined to deal with.”

This story was reported by The Associated Press. Material from Reuters was used in this report.

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